Frederick Douglass Descendants Reflect on Obama

Dearest Great-Great-Grandfather Frederick Douglass,
Remember on Election Day, Nov. 4, 2008, I explained to you what an historic day it was and asked you to please be with me in the voting booth so that, together, we could cast my vote on the touch screen by placing our fingers on the name Barack Obama for president of the United States. Today I'm writing to tell you a new spirit of hope rises all over the world. Barack Obama, a man, like you, the product of two races, has been chosen to represent all Americans equally—as was your dream. And, like you, he will find that the hope he inspires is only a beginning. (Articled continued below...)

Nearly 150 years ago, you helped free 4 million Americans of African decent from a life of servitude. A frenzy of hope followed and with it came an expectation that the same document that guaranteed our freedom would also guarantee our equal rights. Many generations have come and gone since. And, as anxious as we are to claim victory in the long struggle for equality, perhaps this Inauguration Day should be seen as a plateau and not the peak.

As with any struggle there has been pain along the way. Your own great grandson, Frederick Douglass III, succumbed to the burden of expectation. Many believed he was destined to become the same kind of iconic leader you were, but alas there are so very few like you. This Frederick Douglass was a brilliant man in his own right, a surgeon, and he was the father I never knew having taken his own life six months before I was born.

You have always been alive in me. Since I was a little girl I have worked to keep the name of Frederick Douglass in the consciousness of America; not just a name in history, but as a relevant figure in the world today.

My three adult children and I created the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation as a means of preserving your legacy and telling people about the current crisis of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. There are more women, children and men living in a state of servitude today than at any time in the past. We want to do what you and the abolitionists did in the 19th century and shed light on the inhumanity of slavery to inspire aggressive measures to help end it.

This man, Barack Obama, who will take the oath of office as president of the United States, is blessed with strength of mind and of will. It is this strength he will need and more as all of our hopes turn to expectations that we have finally found a leader who will heal us and demand on our behalf that we shall be treated as equals. At the same time, we as a people must realize that apathy and ignorance are the enemies of progress. We must all become more vigilant defenders of the ground won by the leaders such as you who helped us secure the freedoms we possess.

You should know that we are very proud of your accomplishments and that we will continue to work toward realizing your dreams.

With all my love and admiration,
Nettie [Nettie Douglass]

Dear Great-Great-Great-Grandfather Frederick Douglass:
I have thought more than once about composing a letter to you. There are so many questions I have but, on the occasion of the inauguration of America's first black president, what I'd like to know most is this: what makes a great leader?

From a very young age, you understood the value of education and the importance of communicating at the highest level. Through the power and eloquence of your books, newspapers and speeches, you turned the blind into witnesses and gave voice to victims who had none. You offered African-American men a chance to fight for their own freedom on the battleground while you lobbied for it in the White House. You provided your substantial influence to help guarantee the rights of women through early support of their fledgling suffrage movement. And, you brought a glimpse of hope to the struggling people of Haiti.

I was raised away from your far-reaching shadow by design as my mother and grandmother were determined to diminish the weight of my lineage. Therefore, you lived in my heart not as a mentor but as an eccentric spirit from the past with a fiery gaze.

Now I'm learning more about what was behind that gaze and unexpectedly find myself fixed on the same objectives as you. In your name, I am determined to bring light to the dark pursuits of those who would exploit the weakest among us because your blood runs through my veins and I know you would expect me to continue your fight. And, as I gain a better understanding of you, I hope to overcome the weaknesses within myself that would obstruct the progress of our mission.

We're living in a challenging time for this country with an economic depression, wars overseas and an atmosphere of social divisiveness. Perhaps at no time in our history since the Civil War are we in more need of a great leader than now. Barack Obama appears prepared to meet these challenges, but how would you advise a young president taking office with so much at stake?

I believe you would recommend that he guide with integrity so Americans can believe in their leader; that he place the highest value on inclusiveness so we can depend on each other; that he communicate so we can understand his decisions; that he adapt quickly to a world that changes by the minute; and that he apply creativity to his administration to help return this nation to a position of respect and leadership.

I am proud of you for all you have done for our family and for this great country. Thank you on my behalf and that of thousands of others who have tried to follow your examples of great leadership over generations past.

With all my love,
Kenny [Kenneth B. Morris Jr.]
Corona, Calif.